By BRIAN WALKER
COEUR d'ALENE — With just over a month until the May 15 primary, Republican candidates for Kootenai County commissioner seats turned up the heat and took stands on hot topics during a forum Monday night.
During his opening statement, Bill Brooks, who is challenging Marc Eberlein for the District 1 seat, called for a one-on-one debate between the two that would be moderated by someone they would both agree on.
At the conclusion of the forum attended by roughly 150, as the candidates were walking away, Eberlein said he wouldn't accept the offer because he's not interested in the two hurling insults at each other, but he'd love to have a beer with him.
The North West Property Owners Alliance organized the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Kootenai-Shoshone Farm Bureau and the Coeur d'Alene Lakeshore Owners Association. Representatives from those groups asked questions and members of the audience also submitted questions for consideration.
Eberlein, who is seeking a second term, offered a way to cut spending during his opening remarks and again later.
"Solid waste could be operated at 20 percent of what it is and we'd save $2 million to $4 million by privatizing it," he said during the forum at Candlelight Christian Fellowship, adding that the service would be the same and residents' solid waste fee would be reduced.
Brooks criticized Eberlein and District 3 incumbent Bob Bingham for approving the new opt-out option on residential building permits in the name of reducing government.
"I strongly support property rights, but our rights are not absolute when it comes to the safety and welfare of our neighbors," said Brooks, adding that the county needs to go back to the drawing board to obtain stakeholder input on any such changes. "While we're at it, why don’t we get rid of electrical, plumbing and mechanical (permits)? Let's take it one step at a time and fashion a solution that benefits us all as residents of Kootenai County."
The four candidates challenging Bingham were mixed on the building code controversy.
Russ McLain said it should go to a public vote rather than letting two commissioners determine the fate, while Bob Thornton opposes the opt-out option because he believes it will have a ripple effect to other property owners. Leslie Duncan and Luke Sommer believes the opt-out option is a step in the right direction.
"I'd like to see what happens in the next 10 months," Duncan said.
Candidates were also divided on whether the county should have created a new financial analyst position that Bingham advocated for to assist commissioners with data gathering and developing a five-year plan that Bingham said he was surprised does not exist.
Eberlein, Sommer and Duncan oppose creating the position because they believe the duties can be handled with existing staff. McLain said if the commissioners receive additional help, it should be with attracting businesses.
Thornton and Brooks said the commission needs to be filled with qualified folks who know how to run a business.
"We don't have one commissioner today who is qualified to manage the county," Brooks said. "It's complicated and too much money is at stake."
Candidates were also asked if they'd support building a new multi-purpose building at the fair to generate more income and host larger events. The question drew varying responses.
"Let the taxpayers decide if there should be a fancy place or the fair should move elsewhere," McLain said.
Duncan added: "I'd like to see a proposal that doesn't further burden the taxpayer."
Brooks said a comprehensive plan for the fair based on population growth is needed rather than expanding it one building at a time. Eberlein said he doesn't like the idea of moving the fairgrounds because it's in the heart of the metro area.
Thornton said the building would need to be carefully considered, while Sommer said he hasn't studied the topic enough to make an informed decision.